Friday, March 28, 2014

Quote of the Day

"In her Canticle, Mary does not say she is happy because God was looking to her virginity, to her kindness or to her sweetness – all of them virtues that she possessed. No, because the Lord was looking to her humility, the humility of His servant, her smallness. This is what the Lord looks for. And we must take heed of this wisdom and put ourselves on the margins so that the Lord may find us. He will not find us at the center of our certainties. That is not where the Lord looks. He will find us on the margins, in our sins, in our mistakes, in our need for spiritual healing, for salvation; that is where the Lord will find us...

“But there is another truth: God saves us. He saves us when we are on the margins; He does not save us in our certainties. Let us ask for the grace of having the wisdom to put ourselves on the margins, for the grace of humility, so that we may receive the Lord’s Salvation.”

--Pope Francis

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Solemnity of the Annunciation of Our Lord

Bartolome Esteban Murillo, Annunciation (1655)
 Today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation of Our Lord, one of the greatest feasts on the Catholic liturgical calendar. (In some countries today is a holy day of obligation.) Today we celebrate the awesome and stupendous mystery of the Incarnation of the Eternal Son of God in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the sake of our salvation from sin. This great mystery, the fact that God freely chose to become one of us, is the foundation of our Christian faith. A mystery indeed worth pondering. In his infinite wisdom, God does not usually manifest his power in our history through "shock and awe," but rather He acts in silence and hiddenness. Here are two quotes from Pope Francis, reflecting on the mystery of the Annunciation and of Mary's divine maternity:

“The Lord has always taken care of the mystery and has covered the mystery. He did not advertise the mystery. A mystery that advertises itself is not Christian, it is not the mystery of God: it is a fake mystery! And this is what happened to Our Lady here, when she receives her Son: the mystery of Her virginal maternity is concealed. It is concealed for Her whole life! This shadow of God, in our life, helps us to discover our mystery, our mystery of the meeting with the Lord, our mystery of the path of life with the Lord.”

"The Mother of the Redeemer goes before us and continually strengthens us in faith, in our vocation and in our mission. By her example of humility and openness to God’s will she helps us to transmit our faith in a joyful proclamation of the Gospel to all, without reservation. In this way our mission will be fruitful, because it is modeled on the motherhood of Mary. To her let us entrust our journey of faith, the desires of our heart, our needs and the needs of the whole world, especially of those who hunger and thirst for justice and peace, and for God."

May we strive, with the help of God's grace, to imitate Mary's humility and obedience to God's Will, which leads to true freedom.

Speaking of freedom, today the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing the case brought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood against the Obama administration's HHS mandate, which forces business leaders to provide their employees with health insurance coverage that includes abortifacients, artificial contraception and sterilization procedures under penalty of gigantic fines. I am proud to stand with David Green, the founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby, and with the owners of Conestoga Wood in their refusal to comply with this unjust and immoral law. Business owners must have the freedom to act in accordance with the natural moral law when making healthcare decisions for their employees. Refusing to provide abortion-inducing drugs, artificial contraceptives, and sterilizations will not endanger anyone's health. Forcing businesses to provide these items under the mantle of "health insurance" represents a direct attack on the natural law and on the human right to act in accordance with that law. Furthermore, the HHS mandate violates our Constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and freedom to refuse to purchase unwanted or unnecessary products.

So much is at stake here. Let us pray to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Patroness of these United States, that the Supreme Court will render a just decision on behalf of the plaintiffs--a decision that will uphold God's law, our Constitution, and our inalienable rights.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Thought for the Day

"Jesus’ thirst was not so much for water but to meet a parched soul. Jesus needed to meet the Samaritan woman to open her heart. He asks her for a drink of water to bring to light the thirst that was in her. The woman is moved by this encounter: she asks Jesus those profound questions that all of us have but that we often ignore. We too have many questions to ask, but we cannot find the courage to pose them to Jesus! Lent, dear brothers and sisters, is the opportune time to look inside ourselves, to allow our most genuine spiritual needs to emerge, and to ask the Lord’s help in prayer. The example of the Samaritan woman invites us to express ourselves in this way: “Jesus, give me that water that will eternally quench my thirst.”"

--Pope Francis

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Quote of the Day

"What is important for all people, what makes their life significant, is the knowledge they are loved. The person in a difficult situation will hold on if he knows, Someone is waiting for me, someone wants me and needs me. God is there first and loves me. And that is the trustworthy ground on which my life is standing and on which I myself can construct it."

--Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), God and the World (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002), pp. 26-27

Friday, March 14, 2014

Quote of the Day

"God never wearies of forgiving us, never! ...He never tires of forgiving, but we, at times, we tire of asking forgiveness. Let us never tire, let us never tire! He is the loving Father, who always forgives, who has that heart of mercy for all of us. And we too learn to be merciful with everyone."

--Pope Francis

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Congratulations, Pope Francis

I congratulate Pope Francis on the first anniversary of his election to the papacy. He has done so much good for the Church and the world just in this past year. He has touched the hearts of billions of people of goodwill because he fearlessly preaches and lives the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in an authentic and radical way. May his example of simplicity of life, humble service, deep faith and constant charity continue to inspire and motivate us in our commitment to follow Christ faithfully in this modern world. May God continue to bless him with good health and strength and the graces he needs to continue his mission of service to the Church and to humanity. And may Our Lady and the Angels watch over him and protect him from all harm.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Financial and Moral Deficits

Our nation's record-breaking budget deficits are in the news lately. President Obama’s recently uncloaked budget bombshell for fiscal year 2014 includes massive and unprecedented new spending increases—largely as a consequence of the pathetically misnamed Affordable Care Act—at a time when the United States of America is still struggling to recover from the worst recession in eighty years. Under President Obama’s corrupt and irresponsible administration over the past five years, which has swollen the federal bureaucracy to double its original size and scope, our nation has been digging itself into a far deeper hole of debt, and at a far more rapid pace, than at any previous point in its 240-year history. Even the dramatic rise in the national debt from $2.1 trillion to more than $10 trillion that marked the George W. Bush administration due largely to its own massive spending and federal bureaucratic growth is quickly being eclipsed by President Obama’s boundless spending extravaganza. Whereas our country gained some $8 trillion in additional debt burden during eight years of President Bush, we have accumulated nearly $7 trillion more on top of that during just five years of President Obama. As a result, our national debt figure now stands at $17.3 trillion and counting. Unfortunately, President Obama and his loyal cronies on both sides of the aisle have abandoned all pretense of concern for rescuing our country from this inconceivable debt nightmare, with the concept of a balanced budget appearing less likely and more laughable with each passing day. If President Obama’s proposed budgetary scheme were to pass Congressional muster, gigantic spending hikes would push our national debt well above the $20 trillion mark before the final three years of his administration are up.

It is shocking to think that just thirty-three years ago when President Ronald Reagan took office, our entire national debt was "only" around $900 billion. It’s even more disturbing to realize that the federal budget deficit projected for this coming fiscal year alone eclipses our nation's total debt figure for the year 2000. Clearly, our dishonest and corrupt reigning establishment politicians in Washington have lost all sense of fiscal discipline and responsibility for the financial health of our country as they unscrupulously sacrifice control of our national financial system to the insatiable appetites of major corporate interests, thereby loading a colossal and unsustainable burden of debt onto the shoulders of future generations of average hardworking Americans and guaranteeing that American prosperity will soon be a thing of the past.

But while we must be concerned about these gargantuan runaway financial deficits and their long-term impact on our economy, we tend to forget that our country is simultaneously experiencing a more serious kind of deficit—that is, a moral deficit. These two kinds of deficits, moral and fiscal, are closely related. Our nation’s financial and economic decline over time has directly resulted from and closely paralleled its moral decline. The profound and clearly evident moral deficit in our nation's leadership and in its citizens must first be acknowledged and duly addressed if we are to have any hope of effectively halting and reversing the national debt—not to mention getting our economy on a sound footing.

Morality involves a sense of responsibility towards God and our neighbor. Religion helps to foster and inculcate this sense of responsibility. Our Founding Fathers and early national leaders were religious and moral men, and under their wise and competent administration, our country's debt incurred by the War of Independence was paid off in a timely fashion and the national debt kept very low thereafter. The Founders and their immediate successors exhibited a healthy fear of even the smallest outstanding debt. Benjamin Franklin encapsulated this early fiscal conservatism in his famous line, "It is better to go to bed supperless than to wake up in debt." President Andrew Jackson paid off the national debt down to zero in 1835. Unfortunately, in more recent times, the religious and moral character of our nation's leaders has tended to decline, with a decreased sense of responsibility to the people they govern, and the result has been a corresponding increase in the national debt. During the last century, America's outstanding debt rose from less than $1 billion in 1900 to more than $2 trillion in 2000. From the 1980s onward, the debt began to rise at a noticeably faster pace. In the last fourteen years it has grown exponentially, dwarfing the entire national debt of America’s previous 200 years combined, reflecting an increasing loss of any sense of responsibility on the part of our most recent national leaders.

What is debt? Debt is something that we owe someone else. When we get a loan or a credit card, a bank gives us a certain sum of money to borrow. Along with the right to borrow money comes the responsibility to use this money honestly and to repay it as soon as possible. When a creditor lends us money, he gives us the right to use it and expects us to pay it back in a timely fashion. Thus a financial debt is a moral responsibility towards our neighbor, because the money we are borrowing belongs to him. When we repay our debts, we are acting honestly and responsibly in accordance with the moral law.

In the world of finance, we have a responsibility to only borrow a sum of money that we reasonably expect to be able to repay and to avoid deliberately accumulating unsustainable debt. Sometimes, through no fault of our own, we may become indebted to someone and be unable to repay what we owe. In this case, it is an act of mercy and a moral thing for our creditor to voluntarily practice debt forgiveness. When he does this, he is saying that the money he lent us is now ours to keep, and we need not worry about paying it back. In the Bible, Jesus urges creditors to practice this form of forgiveness, and not to demand repayment when this is impossible.

Similarly, in the realm of morality, we are given the right to make free choices, and along with this freedom comes the responsibility to act in accord with the moral law. When we abuse our freedom by committing sin, we incur a moral debt towards God and towards our neighbor. We can pay off such a debt by repenting of our sin and making reparation for it by prayer, fasting, and works of charity. Nonetheless, it is a fact of fallen human nature that most of us are walking around with some level of debt to God due to our sins. However, God is merciful and has made an arrangement known as Purgatory to take care of any remaining moral debt we may owe Him at the time of our death. Jesus himself connected the moral debts we owe to God with the moral debts owed to us by our neighbor in the Our Father, which in St. Mark's gospel reads, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."

Now, in the financial world, there is (or ought to be) a difference between an honest, responsible person who accidentally falls into a situation of unsustainable debt through no fault of his own, and a dishonest, irresponsible person who runs up many debts and wishes to continue running them up with no intention of ever repaying them. In the first case, mercy (financial assistance) is appropriate; in the second case, there can be only justice (collection agencies). In the moral life, there is a similar distinction between a person who sins and then repents and makes restitution for his sin, and a person who sins freely and wishes to continue sinning with no intention of ever repenting. In the first case, God is merciful and bestows a heavenly reward; in the second, He is just and metes out the punishment of Hell. Just as it is the fiscally irresponsible person’s own fault that he loses his credit card and whatever he purchased with it and must pay what he owes with extra penalties and interest, it is the morally irresponsible person’s own fault that he ends up in Hell for all eternity.

Beneath the economic and financial collapse of 2008 that led to the current recession lay a crisis of personal moral responsibility. It’s easy and partly correct to blame irresponsible lending policies of the banks or unwise housing policies of the federal government for this disaster, but the fact is that all of us Americans contributed to this national financial crisis by our immoral individual personal decisions which helped drive the preceding artificial boom. We chose to borrow irresponsibly, to spend more and save less, to live beyond our means, to take on more and more debt, to buy that nice house and new car and all kinds of gadgets we wanted but really couldn’t afford. In other words, we chose to live dishonestly because we were selfish, greedy, materialistic and corrupt. And these immoral personal decisions of ours contributed to the ballooning growth of our national debt during the Bush administration. As Pope Benedict XVI eloquently demonstrated in his great social encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), you cannot build a sustainable economy on immorality and selfishness. Fidelity to the moral law on the part of everyone involved, i.e., personal moral responsibility, is a prerequisite for a sound economic and financial system.

The word "deficit" comes from the Latin word deficere, which means "emptiness." Benedict XVI pointed out in Caritas in Veritate that financial deficits and moral deficits go hand in hand. When individuals in a society succumb to a loss of personal moral responsibility, one of the natural consequences is a loss of fiscal responsibility that negatively impacts the whole society. Our skyrocketing fourteen-figure national debt with its twelve zeroes is merely a symbol and a symptom of the yawning moral emptiness of our nation’s leaders and citizens in recent years. Without a general and profound moral reform of American society beginning with each individual American, no financial reform project will succeed or bear lasting fruit. Only through a timely return and re-commitment to personal moral responsibility—aided by devout religious faith and the wisdom and example of the Founders—on the part of America’s citizens and leaders alike can our nation yet hope to pull away from the giant black hole of financial self-destruction toward which it is now hurtling at breakneck speed.

Copyright © 2014 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Quote of the Day

“These hypocritical people [the Pharisees] are good persons. They do all they should do. They seem good. But they are ethicists without goodness because they have lost the sense of belonging to a people! Our Lord gives us salvation through belonging to a people...

“Our perfection, our holiness is linked with our people where we are chosen and become part. Our greatest act of holiness relates to the flesh of our brother and the flesh of Jesus Christ. Our act of holiness today, here at the altar, is not a hypocritical fasting: instead it means not being ashamed of the flesh of Christ which comes here today!

“This is the mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ. It means going to share our bread with the hungry, taking care of the sick, the elderly, those who can’t give us anything in return: this is not being ashamed of the flesh!...

“Am I ashamed of the flesh of my brother and sister? When I give alms, do I drop the coin without touching the hand (of the poor person, beggar)? And if by chance I do touch it, do I immediately withdraw it? When I give alms, do I look into the eyes of my brother, my sister? When I know a person is ill, do I go and visit that person? Do I greet him or her with affection?...

Am I capable of giving a caress or a hug to the sick, the elderly, the children, or have I lost sight of the meaning of a caress? These hypocrites were unable to give a caress. They had forgotten how to do it...

“Don’t be ashamed of the flesh of our brother. It’s our flesh! We will be judged by the way we behave towards this brother, this sister.”

--Pope Francis

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Importance and Potential of the Catholic Vote

(Note: This article originally appeared on the Intellectual Conservative Feb. 13, 2014 at and was re-published on EzineArticles Feb. 17, 2014 at )

Almost any candidate running for president of the United States, for a state governorship, or for a U.S. Senate or House seat these days is clearly aware that he or she probably won’t win the election unless the better part of Catholics participating in that election choose to vote for him or her. In twenty-first century America, how Catholics vote generally determines the outcome of national and state election campaigns. The first presidential election of the century, the election of 2000, was an exception to this general rule, with Republican candidate George W. Bush barely scraping victory despite narrowly losing the Catholic vote. But in the more typical election of 2004, 52 percent of American Catholics cast their ballots for the Republican candidate, George W. Bush, resulting in his re-election as President of the United States. In 2008, on the other hand, Catholics opted for the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, by a 55 percent margin, putting him in the White House by a comfortable margin. The historic 2010 midterm elections revealed Catholic voters as a major driving force of the Tea Party landslide: 58 percent of them chose Republican candidates for governor, House and Senate seats. Finally, U.S. Catholic voters tipped the close presidential election of 2012 in favor of Barack Obama by a margin of 50 to 48 percent—the same margin as the rest of the electorate.

The significance of the Catholic vote in American politics is unquestionable. But what exactly is this thing called “the Catholic vote,” and how does it work? To find out, let’s take a closer look at the political, social, and religious characteristics of the Catholics of the United States today.

Catholics are a complex and unique group politically. Although they comprise a substantial chunk of the U.S. population (roughly one-fourth or about 70 million), unlike Jews or Evangelicals, they are not overwhelmingly committed to a single political party. Rather, they’re split about 40/40 between the Republican and Democratic parties, while the remaining 20 percent or so are “swing voters,” those who aren’t firmly committed to either party and whose choices in a given election are shaped by a variety of superficial factors. It is these swing voters in each national election, as well as in most state elections, who determine whether the majority of Catholics goes for one party or the other and thus which party wins high office. So savvy politicians spend a great deal of money and effort to try to win this narrow demographic of Catholic swing voters, who comprise no more than 5 percent of the total U.S. electorate.

Part of the reason why Catholics as a whole are not committed to a single party is that they are a motley bunch, hailing from a variety of ethnic and economic backgrounds. They include Caucasians, Hispanics, Filipinos, other East Asians, African-Americans, rich and poor, business professionals and farm workers, urban and rural folk. Catholics are found in every milieu of American society; they inhabit every state and geographical region of the country (although they are spread more thinly in the South). These characteristics set Catholics apart from other religious groups, such as the Protestant majority (which is mostly white and Republican) and Jews (who are mainly Democrats and confined to the largest cities). Thus, it can be said that, given their political, ethnic and economic diversity, Catholics are generally representative of the nation as a whole.

The political characteristics of American Catholics are greatly influenced by how they believe and practice their faith. Less than one-fourth of them are faithful, practicing Catholics who allow their faith to shape their voting decisions and who follow the guidance of their bishops regarding both the negotiable and the non-negotiable issues at stake. For these good Catholics, the right to life of innocent unborn children, the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, the right of the Church to act in accord with its teachings and the rights of Americans to act in accord with their moral consciences and religious beliefs, and the right to life of the ill and elderly are of fundamental importance in choosing which candidate to vote for. While a candidate’s positions on other issues such as poverty, war, immigration, taxes, health care, or the economy are carefully considered as well, these negotiable issues are ultimately subservient to the non-negotiable issues of life, family, the moral law and human rights that form the very cornerstone of society. Since the Democratic Party has fervently embraced abortion and deliberately ostracized pro-life candidates, these devout Catholics usually end up voting Republican even if that runs against their preference because they have no other choice in good conscience. They are not necessarily loyal Republicans, and many of them are would-be Democrats. They are de facto Republicans whose voting habits are consistent and easily predictable.

Unfortunately, more than 75 percent of American registered Catholics do not even fulfill their basic religious obligation of attending Mass every Sunday, and of these non-practicing Catholics, a substantial portion are “cafeteria Catholics” (heretics) who refuse to accept certain teachings of the Church. Included within this latter group is the 40 percent of all U.S. Catholics who believe that a woman has a right to an abortion under certain circumstances. Also included within this group is the lion’s share of the more than 50 percent of American Catholics who use artificial contraception within their marriages in violation of Church teaching. These staggering numbers indicate a serious crisis of faith in the American Catholic Church, and they betray grave problems in the Catholic vote. Many of these so-called Catholics always vote Democratic regardless of their candidate’s position on life and marriage; some always vote Republican, even when the Republican candidate supports legalized abortion and same-sex “marriage”; and the remainder are swing voters who pick their party and candidate in each election with little or selective regard for Church teaching on the issues. Some nominal Catholics do agree with the Church that abortion is gravely immoral, but this does not stop them from voting for pro-abortion candidates in clear violation of Church teaching.

Within this overwhelming multitude of Catholics in name only, which includes some 60 million Americans, it is swing voters who determine the role that the Catholic vote plays in each national election as well as in most state elections. Catholic swing voters reelected President Bush in 2004 (that was good), elected President Obama in 2008 (that was bad), helped push the Tea Party to gubernatorial and Congressional victories in 2010 (that was good), and reelected President Obama in 2012 (that was bad). The fact that 55 percent of American Catholics helped put in the White House the most radically pro-abortion president in our nation’s history, and that 50 percent chose to reelect him despite his blatant attacks on the moral law, the Catholic Church, religious liberty and moral conscience rights, is a crying shame. These tragic results were due to Catholic swing voters allying with the substantial minority of Democratic pro-abortion Catholics.

Of course, it’s great when Catholic swing voters do the opposite, and join forces with faithful Catholics and staunch Republican Catholics to assure a victory for human rights and traditional values. In a triumphant press release following the historic 2010 midterm elections, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League announced that “Catholics voted 58-40 for the Republican candidates last night.” He noted that “[t]his was a dramatic 20-point swing from two years ago,” but then added, “What caused Catholics to bolt is not clear.” The reason for this dramatic swing was Catholic swing voters riding the wave of Tea Party enthusiasm that swept the country in reaction to President Obama’s unpopular and immoral healthcare reform law—which is now unfortunately in effect, thanks to those same swing voters having reverted to the Democratic Party two years later.

The fact of the matter is that these Catholic swingers, together with the vast assemblage of non-practicing Catholics in general, are essentially indistinguishable from the secular society and culture around them. They think and vote the way the people around them think and vote; their Catholic faith has little or nothing to do with it. Because they are not well-grounded in their faith, they allow the winds of fashion and popular opinion to blow them to and fro like rudderless sailboats. In 2008 the winds were blowing gently towards the Democrats, so that’s the way they headed. In 2010 the winds sharply shifted course towards Tea Party Republicans, so they caught the gusts and sailed along in that direction.

It is unfortunately true that Catholics in name only control the power of the American Catholic vote by virtue of their sheer numerical monopoly. That is a scandal. What’s even worse is that this situation is allowed to persist by another group we have not yet mentioned: millions of otherwise good practicing Catholics who don’t bother to register or go to the polls on Election Day. These Catholic non-voters frequently and adversely affect the outcome of elections by their failure to participate in the political process. Together with Catholics in name only, they are traitors to both their Church and their country. If these otherwise good Catholics were mobilized to do their duty to God and country, they would add to the faithful Catholics who already vote and help to neutralize the deleterious effects of the Catholic swing voters, thus critically influencing the outcome of important elections. It’s a shame to see the Catholic vote split among pro-abortion Catholics, faithful Catholics and swing Catholics who ignore or selectively apply Church teaching on the issues, while other Catholics just sit by and watch. These divisions are preventing the Catholic vote from achieving its true potential as a great force for good in our country. Meanwhile, so-called “Catholic” politicians eagerly exploit the Catholic vote for their own political gain while promoting a woman’s “right” to abortion or attacking the Church’s right to practice its teachings in public life.

The good news, however, is that these grave problems with the American Catholic vote can be overcome. In fact, change for the better within the American Catholic Church is not only possible, it is gradually unfolding before our eyes. Most “cafeteria Catholics” are over the age of 60, while most faithful Catholics are 45 and under. Young Catholics in particular are fervently dedicated to the pro-life cause. This was nowhere more clearly demonstrated than in the March for Life in Washington, D.C. in January 2013. Of the more than 800,000 people who took part in this event, a majority were Catholic teenagers and younger adults born since Roe v. Wade. This army of young, pro-life Catholics—some of whom were elected to state governorships and U.S. House and Senate seats in 2010 and 2012—continues to grow, while pro-abortion Catholics in the mold of Ted Kennedy are gradually declining and dying out. Younger Catholic priests are not afraid to speak from the pulpit the truth about the evils of abortion, artificial contraception, and gay “marriage,” and their numbers are slowly on the rise as well.

Imagine what the Catholic vote would be like if American Catholics were solidly united in the full belief and faithful practice of the religion they profess! Just imagine what would happen if all Catholic voters in the United States voted in accordance with Church teaching in every election. No pro-abortion candidate for president or governor would ever make it into public office; nor would most such candidates for U.S. Senate and House seats. Politicians would have a holy fear of the Catholic vote, knowing that to publicly take a pro-abortion or pro-gay “marriage” stand would cost them the support of their Catholic constituents. Furthermore, the already massive and growing pro-life, pro-marriage and religious liberty movements would be much stronger and even more effective if our elected representatives had four times as many Catholic constituents knocking on their doors and pressuring them to do away with legalized abortion, gay “marriage” and the HHS mandate. If every American Catholic citizen took seriously his or her grave moral obligation to form and vote his or her conscience in accord with Church teaching, we would have a different and much better country. And all this would happen if only Americans who currently profess to be Catholic took their faith seriously. The Catholic vote would take on even more formidable proportions if half of all American ex-Catholics—another 50 million people—were to return to the Church and begin voting as faithful Catholics. Imagine the beneficial consequences to our country of such a massive reversion to Catholicism!

As Catholics vote, so goes the nation. Good Catholics make good citizens. The sacraments (especially the Holy Eucharist and Confession), prayer (especially the Holy Rosary), and sound catechesis are the keys to revitalizing and renewing the Catholic Church in the United States—and in so doing, to unlock the hidden potential of the Catholic vote and make it truly a force to be reckoned with in future elections.

Copyright © 2014 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Quote of the Day

"For whatever our transgressions, and whatever we have done through the attacks of the adversary, let us pray that we may be forgiven....For it is good for a man to confess his failings rather than to harden his heart."

--St. Clement I, Pope and Martyr

Monday, March 3, 2014

Awaiting the Church's Final Decision on Medjugorje

Earlier this year, the Vatican announced that it had completed its thorough investigation of the alleged apparitions and messages of our Blessed Mother to six individuals in Medjugorje, Macedonia, which began in June of 1981 and continue to this day. The findings of this investigation are currently being examined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Once this examination is complete, the results of the investigation will then be forwarded to the desk of Pope Francis, who will make the final judgment regarding the authenticity of these apparitions and messages.

What will our Holy Father decide with regard to Medjugorje? It's difficult to predict his decision because of the complexity of the situation. Debate as to the authenticity of the alleged apparitions and messages has been raging for decades among theologians, bishops, priests, and canon lawyers, while millions of lay faithful have embraced the apparitions and messages as authentic. Unless I am mistaken, a number of years ago the Vatican under Blessed John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger did issue a provisional statement to the effect that the alleged appearances and messages of Our Lady in Medjugorje were "worthy of belief" and that therefore the lay faithful were temporarily permitted to accept them and believe in them if they wished.

However, recent signals from the Church hierarchy have sounded a decidedly negative tone. A few years ago, Vinko Puljic, the Bishop of Medjugorje, filed an official complaint with the Holy See regarding the massive goings-on in his diocese surrounding the alleged apparitions, which prompted the Vatican in 2010 to appoint a special commission of selected bishops, priests, theologians, and lay faithful from around the world to investigate the whole matter. Last October, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Vatican office in charge of the commission of investigation), sent a letter to the U.S. bishops ordering them to forbid alleged Medjugorje visionary Ivan Dragicevic from speaking at two public events in the States during which he expected to receive apparitions from Our Lady. Cardinal Mueller pointed out in his letter that the alleged apparitions have yet to be ruled authentic. With regard to the credibility of these "apparitions," Cardinal Mueller stated that "all should accept the declaration" of the former Yugoslavian bishops dated April 10, 1991, to the effect that there is no proof that apparitions or supernatural revelations have taken place at Medjugorje.

For those of us who have uncritically embraced the alleged Medjugorje revelations as authentic for many years, such pronouncements and restrictions from the Church hierarchy may seem harsh and severe, even conspiratorial, designed to persecute true visionaries and to shut down authentic apparitions. However, the Church, as Mater et Magister (Mother and Teacher), is simply doing its job of looking carefully into and rigorously evaluating claims of supernatural phenomena and private revelation in light of Catholic doctrine and discipline in order to provide sure guidance for the faithful. The Church bears a tremendous responsibility in this regard. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would rather err on the side of caution than approve alleged apparitions that turn out to be a fraud. Taking the latter course would cause great scandal and confusion among the faithful, possibly leading to many people losing their souls, and would seriously damage the Church's reputation. Sometimes we children of the Church don't understand why she won't give us what we want when we want it, but our Mother the Church knows what is best for us and we have to trust her judgment.

The Church, upon duly investigating, did find proof of supernatural occurrences in the cases of the apparitions at Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, Knock, Paray-le-Monial (Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque and the Sacred Heart devotion), Rue du Bac (Saint Catherine Laboure and the Miraculous Medal), Banneaux, San Gervasio (Mother Eugenia Ravasio and the Eternal Father), Plock and Vilnius (Saint Faustina and Divine Mercy), Garabandal, and others (I'm not sure about Kibeho, Rwanda, but I think that one has been approved by the local bishop). What is not always remembered, however, is that several of these now approved private revelations were at one time restricted or banned altogether, either by the local bishop or by Rome, or both, before further investigations finally confirmed their authenticity beyond doubt. For example, the Bishop of Fatima once temporarily forbade Sister Lucia from circulating messages she had received from Our Lady in his diocese. Grammatical errors caused Saint Faustina's diary to be condemned by the Church in the 1960s. Even the great Italian mystic Saint Pio of Pietrelcina was severely restricted by the Holy See for many years until the Church was satisfied that he was not involved in any suspicious activities. So keep in mind that recent negative statements from the Church hierarchy concerning alleged supernatural events at Medjugorje do not necessarily portend a final negative decision. These matters are complicated, and many factors are involved.

Church leaders have said little or nothing publicly thus far about the theological content of the Medjugorje messages and whether there is anything in them that conflicts with Church teaching. I'm no canon lawyer, but it seems to me the main questions at stake here are 1) whether the alleged apparitions of Our Lady at Medjugorje are authentic supernatural events of divine origin or not, 2) whether the alleged messages are theologically sound and in conformity with Church teaching or not, and 3) whether the alleged seers are telling the truth or not. All of these questions are further complicated by the fact that not just one alleged visionary, but six, are involved in the case of Medjugorje.

On one hand, the alleged apparitions at Medjugorje have borne a great deal of positive fruit in the life of the Church that no objective observer can ignore or dismiss. Over the past thirty-three years, millions of people have experienced life-changing conversions and renewal, spiritual and emotional healings, and all manner of graces and heavenly blessings as a result of making pilgrimage to Medjugorje to pray to Our Blessed Mother; millions more have been led through the messages to deepen their personal prayer lives and their commitment to Christ and His Church. The alleged messages emphasize personal conversion, prayer, fasting, and penance for world peace, which is consistent with the content of approved messages from Our Lady in Lourdes, Fatima, and elsewhere. Furthermore, most if not all of the alleged Medjugorje visionaries have demonstrated humility resulting in obedience to their superiors, i.e., their spiritual directors and their local bishop; for example, when the U.S. bishops forbade Ivan Dragicevic to speak at several events in the U.S. at which he claimed the Blessed Mother would appear to him, he cancelled his appearances at those events. All of these things would seem to augur in favor of the authenticity of the alleged apparitions at Medjugorje, and the Church has undoubtedly taken these things into account in its investigation of the private revelations claimed at Medjugorge.

But on the other hand, there has not been a lack of reports and rumors that would seem to detract from the authenticity of these revelations. One of the alleged seers, for instance, is apparently a millionaire, married to a fashion model and residing in a palatial mansion, supposedly having profited immensely from the sale of religious items at Medjugorje. If this scandal is fabricated, it could be a lie spread by someone determined to discredit the apparitions. But if it is true, it would present a serious obstacle for the Church in the path of recognizing the apparitions as authentic and would lend credence to the theory that the apparitions at Medjugorje are nothing more than a hoax and a scam concocted to generate revenue for the alleged visionaries.

In deciding whether a given series of private revelations is authentic, the Church (the local bishop) must carefully examine the personal character, integrity, truthfulness, and holiness of each of the alleged visionaries involved as well as their mental and psychological health. If they have a clean slate in all of these areas, then the Church has to examine the alleged messages themselves for doctrinal error or theological problems. If the messages are determined to be free from such, then the path is clear for the bishop to proceed toward canonical recognition, and thus approval, of such alleged apparitions. If one of the Medjugorje visionaries has grown wealthy by taking advantage of the pious faith of millions of Catholic pilgrims, this could deal a death blow to Medjugorje from the Church's perspective. A genuine visionary would never turn the apparitions to his or her personal profit. And yet it would still be possible that one or more of the other visionaries has been, and is still, receiving authentic apparitions and messages from the Blessed Virgin Mary.

So what will the Church ultimately decide with regard to the alleged apparitions of Medjugorje? A possible indirect critique has already come from Pope Francis, who remarked a few weeks ago that "Mary is our Mother, not a postmaster who sends us messages every day." However, Pope Francis is also greatly devoted to Our Blessed Mother and thus a champion of authentic Marian devotion. Regardless of whether the alleged apparitions and messages of Medjugorje are authentic or not, and regardless of whether any of the alleged visionaries have engaged in deliberate hoodwinkery, it's clear that Medjugorje has functioned for the past three decades as a place of authentic Marian devotion. Therefore, I anticipate a mixed ruling on Medjugorje, perhaps declaring that no genuine apparitions have taken place there, perhaps stating that the messages are free from doctrinal or moral error but are not of supernatural origin, and perhaps allowing the faithful to continue coming there on pilgrimage as to any other Marian shrine. Whatever decision Pope Francis makes will certainly be for the good of the Church, and even as a longtime devotee of Our Lady of Medjugorje myself, I am prepared to accept his judgment without question, even if the decision is more negative than I anticipate.

Since we are not privy to the details of the Vatican's official report on Medjugorje, it is possible that we may be completely surprised by the final verdict. But regardless of what that decision includes, it will be a relief to finally know the Church's definitive position on the matter after more than thirty years of claims, doubt, and controversy.

Copyright © 2014 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.